Monday, March 30, 2015

St. Peter's Church - Jaffa, Israel

The biblical town of Joppa is today known as Jaffa, or Old Jaffa, now a suburb of Tel Aviv. Jaffa has one of the oldest functioning harbors in the world. Legend has it that Jaffa was founded by Japheth, son of Noah.
An aerial view of the harbor in Jaffa. St. Peter's Church is the large structure left of center.
A view of the beach and Tel Aviv from near St. Peter's.
St. Peter’s Church, in Kedumin Square, is a Franciscan Monastery on a promontory overlooking the old harbor with a good view of Tel Aviv and the coastline. Underneath the church and to its side are the remnants of a crusader fort, and underneath that is an old Byzantine church. The fort was part of the citadel erected by Frederick I and restored by St. Louis, or Louis IX, king of France, who was canonized for his part in the seventh crusade (which he led from 1248 to 1254) and eighth crusade (which he led, starting in 1270 until his death that year from the plague). Remnants of the citadel include two whole circular rooms with low ceilings and fire embrasures. Following the Siege of Jaffa, from March 3 to 7, 1799, Napoleon captured Jaffa from the Ottoman Empire and stayed in the remnants of the citadel incorporated into the church. The church was destroyed and rebuilt twice during the late 18th century and the current structure was built between 1888 and 1894, then renovated in 1903. It is the largest and most distinctive building in Old Jaffa. 
St. Peter's Church
The front of St. Peter's. Portion of the citadel from the old crusader castle sticks out to the right. 
A side of St. Peter's showing the bell tower.
The opposite side with another view of the turret.
An evening view of St. Peter's 
The Franciscan shield, above the entrance, shows two arms superimposed over the cross. The first arm represents Jesus and the second St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order. The sleeve that covers the arm of St. Francis represents the habit he wore and now worn by his followers. Each hand is marked with a small cross that represent the wounds Jesus received during his passion and the wounds Francis got during his stigmata. The two arms are mirror images of each other, just as Francis was very much like Jesus during his life and is called "the Mirror of Christ." Beneath is a Jerusalem Cross, also known as the crusader's cross. It is a cross with crossbars or "crutches" at the four ends surrounded by four smaller Greek crosses, one in each quadrant. It originated with the coat of arms worn by Godrey of Bouillon during the First Crusade and remained a symbol of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. 
An inside view of St. Peter's.
The dove above the altar.
The ceiling.
The church commemorates two events: (a)  Peter resuscitating Tabitha, who died; and (b) the vision in the house of Simon the Tanner of a sheet of unclean animals coming down from the skies, signifying to Peter that the church would embrace the Gentiles.

In Acts 9:36-43, Peter raised Tabitha from the dead in Jaffa: In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room.  Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.  He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.
An altar commemorating the raising of Tabitha.
A closer view of Peter raising Tabitha.
In Acts 10:9-16, “Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.”

In the meantime, Cornelius the gentile Centurian from Caesarea sent for Peter and Peter responded by traveling to Caesarea. In Acts 10:28, Peter told a group at the home of Cornelius, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” Shortly thereafter, Peter baptized Cornelius.

Later, in Jerusalem, Peter explained (Acts 11:5-14): "I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me:  Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw four footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat.  But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth.  But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.   And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven.  And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me.  And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house:  And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.”
The front altar with a painting commemorating Peter's vision.
A closer view of the painting showing Peter with an angel and the vision of the sheet.
We visited St. Peter's with two friends and were on our way to pick up four additional friends who had just come from the airport when our guide noticed a Franciscan priest walking up the sidewalk to the church. He asked the priest how long the church would be open. The priest started talking to us and asked if we were Mormons. We mentioned we were and he talked about his friendships with the Mormons and ultimately invited us all up to St. Peter's for a private tour. It turns out he was Father Angelo Beda Ison, one of the leaders of St. Peter's Church and Monastery. We arrived just as the church was closing and Father Angelo instructed the priest who was closing up to allow us in while he changed into his robes. He then invited us into the Monastery and showed us a room where the Franciscans meet, a courtyard with a statue of King Louis IX, and back into a round room of the former citadel where he said that King Louis IX and Richard the Lionheart had stayed. He talked of going through the old papers in the archives and finding the letter from the pope entrusting the Holy Land to the care of the Franciscans and other treasures he'd found in the archives. 
Father Angelo in one of the rooms of the monastery.
Jerusalem crosses above the ceiling fixtures.
A crucifix with a cross with crutches at each end.
A painting of St. Francis above an entryway into the monastery.
A painting depicting the Transfiguration.
A painting depicting the Passion.
A painting depicting the baptism of Jesus.
A statue of King Louis IX in the courtyard.
A closer look at King Louis IX.
Father Angelo speaking to us in a room from the citadel.
Stained glass from the citadel. 
A sign signifying that the Franciscans have custody of the Holy Land.
Father Angelo, after leading us out the door of the Monastery.
This was one of our treasured experiences in Israel. 

1 comment:

  1. The first of several "mini miracles" we experienced. I was so impressed by Father Angelo's graciousness, warmth, and humor. He is as person I would want as a friend. He is a good emissary for the Franciscans in Israel.